I'm a co-op student with a 4 month contract for the government. I was surprised I got the job, as it was for a development position and I failed almost all technical questions in the interview. I've been working here for 2 weeks and I really don't think it's a good fit.

The person who hired me considers himself an "architect" (didn't specify what kind) and he had hired a co-op student last semester to build him a program and now I'm replacing that one. The building is for scientific research, and though there are people who know Python (the language the program is written in) I don't actually work with anyone in the sense I'm the only working on the source code to this project.

Often times it's unclear to me what my boss wants and when I ask him he says he's not a programmer and that's why they hired me. It's really annoying as he has mentioned several times how the previous student has left good documentation, but I've never seen any documentation (at least not in a developer's sense, for example I was given a Power Point Presentation to go over).

My task was to copy the source code files from another user account and also to clone from Mercurial, but then some source code needed to be changed (for example user permissions, hard coded paths to the previous developer's user account). My boss had told me to replace the previous user name/password with my own where it occurred in the source code; my boss was watching me at the moment and got upset and said "look! in the XML it says the query is false! so why would you change this user name?" I told him I didn't understand and he just repeated the same thing.

My overall task is to make it so the program runs without any errors in a log I was shown, and I feel like these instructions are a little to vague. One error said "Could not load IronPython". I google searched for this error and found nothing useful, so I don't know how to be more productive when my boss won't help me. I don't really know Python and I had told my boss this and he replied "there's going to be a steep learning curve".

In the interview I tried to ask questions but they shut it down really quickly. To some extent I feel they misrepresented the job. For example I know development is usually done in teams.

He sometimes says stuff like "There needs to be a balance between learning and work. After 2 weeks you still don't have the program up and running". I guess the reason for this is A) yes I've worked here for 2 weeks but have only been given access to the source code 3 days ago B) I'm unclear how to get it up and running C) A lot of parts to get it up and running include things that are out of my control, such as getting access to specific tables in the database.

TL;DR I've been giving this job my best effort and my health is suffering from the stress. I'm going to quit as I don't see the situation improving. I would like to take classes but given I've already missed 2 weeks of school, I need to start attending immediately. I only work with my boss. How should I inform him? I know the mature thing to do is face-to-face but I must attend the class tomorrow morning, and in the past when I was sick and he didn't receive my e-mail he said he was about to call the police because he thought something had happened to me and that's why I wasn't at work (I sure hope he was joking, but you never know). I was thinking I could send him an email ASAP explaining my reasons for quitting and stating I am available to meet in person. English isn't his first language and occasionally it can be a problem.

Should I give reasons for quitting, or should I be chalk it up to "I have determined I'm not a good fit for this job and will be returning to classes" (if I'm too far behind in classes I'll find another job, at least part time).

How does this sound?

Hi [boss],

Given the fact that I don't seem to be making progress and that I am
unfamiliar with the technologies necessary for this job I have decided that I'm going to resign and will be returning to class. Since classes have already started it is important I attend them immediately but I realize that these sorts of things are best discussed face-to-face. I am available to come back to the office for after school. I believe this is for the best, as I'm unhappy with the work and you seem unhappy with the work I am doing. Good luck finding a replacement and I hope things will work out well.


I am not in possession of any company property that needs to be returned.

  • So why didn't you send him an e-mail when you knew you were going to be away?
    – Jack
    May 14, 2015 at 7:21
  • @Jack I did but for whatever reason it took several hours to get through
    – Bart Tell
    May 14, 2015 at 7:23
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    You describe yourself as confused, incompetent, unmotivated and would rather be somewhere else. Don't get so down on yourself -- you're a model government worker! Congratulations! (take it easy, it's a joke)
    – ExactaBox
    May 14, 2015 at 8:11
  • 1
    @ExactaBox haha yea...but in all seriousness if that isn't a good reason to quit a job then I don't know what is.
    – Bart Tell
    May 14, 2015 at 8:19
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    do you not have a co-ordinator for your co-op program? Part of their job is to help co-ops who feel so over their heads they want to quit and go back to classes. Call or email that person today. May 14, 2015 at 12:13

2 Answers 2


You have been given a four month contract. You clearly don't have the experience to do a really good job in these four months, which the person hiring you knows or should have known, so this is fine. I'm sure the pay you get is in a reasonable relation to the experience you have and the quality of the job you are doing, so there is nothing to worry about and to be ashamed of. They pay little, they can't expect a top software developer.

That's the most important thing; there is nothing to blame yourself for. What you should do is first, use this as a learning experience. Learn anything you can learn in your time there so that you leave in four months time as a more experienced and better software developer. Learn from the personal interactions so that in four months time you are a better and more capable employee.

As far as your actual job performance is concerned, just do the best you can. Which isn't very good, because you are an unexperienced developer, but that's not your fault and not your problem. It's the problem of the hiring manager. Nobody forced them to hire you.

And then there is a thing about stress: Stress isn't produced by forces outside your control, stress is produced by yourself. If your boss says "you should do this, this and that" and you know you can't do it, don't stress yourself. Tell him "ok, I will do this" and then start with the first part of the first task and don't worry about the rest. If you don't get the second and third task done, that's his problem, not yours. As your boss, his job is to know what you can and can't do, and he's apparently not very good at it. By doing a tiny bit every day, you will make progress. By stressing about it, you will achieve nothing.

I don't quite understand your situation with classes. Are you supposed to work half time and go to classes the rest of your time? In that case, don't spend more time on the job than you should.


My opinion is that you're being set up to fail.You clearly don't have the training, the skills set, the experience and your lack of qualifications is compounded by the lack of professional support that you've been getting. I doubt that you are even learning much because you are not even at the stage where you have worked out what you need to learn.

If you decide to leave, it does not matter how ungraceful and unsmooth your departure is so long as you depart. Do the best you can to give your boss fair warning by email and in person but at the end of the day, it has to be clear to your boss that you are leaving.

  • Why would they hire someone just to have them fail? This seems like a Hanlon's razor to me. +1 for the second paragraph nonetheless.
    – rath
    May 14, 2015 at 12:27
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    @rath I have no idea why they'd hire someone who is admitting that "I failed almost all technical questions in the interview". The people who did the hiring had their own rationale but that rationale escapes you, the OP and me. May 14, 2015 at 13:03
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    @rath: This isn't necessarily by intent. Since this is government, someone might have a budget and needs to spend it, or they won't get a budget next year.
    – gnasher729
    May 14, 2015 at 15:00
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    @gnasher729 But apparently, the rationale did not escape you. Good point. It does escape me, though: with all these potential qualified candidates available in the university, why did they hire the one who failed all the technical tests, unless he was the only one who showed any interest in the position? May 14, 2015 at 15:02
  • PHB circular reasoning I bet...People are dispensable, I just need to hire someone cheap, and they will learn. Oct 3, 2017 at 20:27

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